The drug that makes people jump off buildings

A man being held by several police officers Image copyright Staffordshire Police
Image caption Police have warned that the use of monkey dust is at epidemic levels

It has led people to jump off buildings, bite others and run into people’s homes. Now police say it is only a matter of time before someone dies as the result of “monkey dust” – a synthetic drug rising in popularity in the West Midlands.

“At night time I won’t go out, because that’s when the people on drugs tend to come out,” Molly Lawton, a 19-year-old chef from Stoke, tells the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

“You see someone who’s on monkey dust swinging their arms around, shouting and screaming. [At night] that would frighten me to death.”

Monkey dust is a class B drug that has been in circulation for several years.

Image caption Molly Lawton says she is afraid to go into Stoke city centre at night

But now emergency services within Stoke are worried it is becoming an epidemic.

The drug can stop users feeling pain, and causes them to experience hallucinations – making them highly unpredictable.

What sets it apart, however, is that its effects can last for days.

Police have been called to cases where individuals have run into traffic and jumped off buildings.

No-one so far has died. But there is concern it is just a matter of time.

Image caption Smithy has been using the drug for a year

Selling for £2 a bag, monkey dust is said to be used among many within the city’s homeless community.

One man, who gave his name as Smithy, has been using it over the last year.

Aged 31, he has been sleeping rough for 10 years, and says it is one of the most potent drugs he has ever tried.

“I hate the fact that I like it. I hate it every time I have it, but I still have it,” he says, wishing he was not addicted.

“It’s everywhere. There’s that many people on it.”

‘The worst we’ve seen’

Chief Supt Jeff Moore from Staffordshire Police says the force has dealt with 950 calls related to the drug in the past three months.

“Frequently we see the paranoia – instances of people jumping into traffic, jumping onto bridges and high buildings, running into people’s houses,” he says.

“From a drug perspective this is the worst we’ve seen. It’s a consequence of not just taking the drug, but people risking others’ safety too.”

He said it was difficult for officers to deal with, as those on the drug are so unpredictable, and called for a wider look into the social and public health issues that contribute to its use.

“It’s not just about a group of people who are homeless and in town,” he added, saying people of different backgrounds and ages were using it too.”

‘People hiding weapons’

Darren Murinas, a reformed drug-dealer working with the group Expert Citizens, says he previously lived with three people using the drug.

“These guys had been using crack and heroin, but no longer did because of the price,” he says.

On one occasion, he explains, one housemate “thought there was someone under the floorboards after him, and wouldn’t sleep for days.

“I’ve seen it induce a psychosis – people hiding weapons because they were scared,” he adds.

Mr Murinas says he knows one person who is “constantly in hospital” having been addicted to the drug, and another with serious brain trauma.

“We need to start recording this issue so we can get the data,” he says.

“And we need to look at it with a mental health lens, not just with police.”

Image caption Security guard Ari says the drug is making life difficult for businesses in the city centre

Among those in Stoke city centre, many have seen the visible effects of the drug.

One security guard, Ari, says it is causing problems for businesses in the area.

Charlie, an 18-year-old student who has tried the drug a few times and whose surname we are not using, says he would never take it again.

“I felt weird,” he says, remembering its effects. “I felt like when I first took it I was walking like a zombie. It’s not clever.”

He says there have been efforts to educate students about the dangers of the drug at his college, as the city becomes more aware of its effects.

For Molly, the worry is that the situation will become worse before it can get better.

“There’s a lot of it, because the drug dealers are selling it for just £2 a bag,” she says.

“With it being so cheap, there’s going to be a lot more [taking it] around Stoke too.”

Watch the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 BST on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel in the UK and on iPlayer afterwards.



India postman sacked for hoarding 6,000 letters over a decade

Letters to be sorted out in front of the main post office in the capital of Himachal Pradesh Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption No mail in years? Maybe check with your local postman

A postal worker in India has been suspended after he was found to not have delivered thousands of letters for more than 10 years.

Ever wondered why you never heard back from that job offer, that ATM card application or never got mail from someone you really wanted to hear from?

Well, if you’re in the Odhanga village in India’s Orissa state, there’s a good chance that letter was in fact sent.

It just never was delivered, piling up with countless other undelivered mail.

The stash of old letters and packages were discovered by chance when a group of school children played in the recently abandoned post office after the branch had moved to a new location.

Playing in the yard, they noticed large bags with letters sticking out, local media report.

When they looked inside and discovered ATM cards and bank passbooks, they alerted their parents and soon the authorities were on the case.

According to the Hindustan Times newspaper, it’s thought there are some 6,000 letters and packages with the oldest dating back as far as 2004.

Some 1,500 letters have been salvaged while the many of the remaining mail are soggy or damaged by termites.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption India Post is one of the most widely distributed postal systems in the world

The reluctant mailman is named as Jagannath Puhan, assistant branch post master, who for most of the past decade was alone in charge at the village office.

Lazy but smart?

And while he appeared to be lazy in delivering the mail, he was smart in how he went about it.

Any registered mail or speed post was duly delivered as he knew the sender would likely track the delivery, officials said.

Ordinary mail however had a good chance of ending up in the store room rather than with the intended recipient.

It is not clear yet why the mailman so blatantly neglected his duties.

According to the Hindustan Times he defended himself saying that for several years he “couldn’t walk properly and was not in a condition to deliver these letters”.

Authorities investigating the case are cited as saying they are puzzled why over all those years no resident had raised complaints.

Whatever mail will be able to be salvaged will now be delivered – albeit with that slight delay of several years.

“I personally noticed a letter from the Indian Navy dated 2011 for a local boy who had applied to them,” one of the investigating post employees is quoted in the Indian Express.

But many a mail might never reach its proper addressee – countless letters have been so damaged over the years that the names on them are indecipherable.



Westminster car crash: What we know so far

What happened?

At 07:37 BST a silver Ford Fiesta crashed into barriers outside Parliament in central London.

Scotland Yard said: “The male driver of the car was detained by officers at the scene. A number of pedestrians have been injured. Officers remain at the scene.”

Eyewitnesses have said the car appeared to deliberately hit members of the public.

What happened to the driver?

The driver, a man in his late 20s, has been arrested on suspicion of terrorist offences and is being held at a south London police station.

There was nobody else in the vehicle, which is still being searched.

Is anybody hurt?

Several people have been injured, although police do not believe anyone is in a life-threatening condition.

The London Ambulance Service said two people were treated at the scene and have been taken to hospital for treatment to injuries which are not believed to be serious.

Where did it happen?

The crash occurred in central London outside the Palace of Westminster. Parliament is not currently sitting.

An eyewitness said the vehicle was travelling westbound when it swerved into eastbound traffic.

Image copyright Google

What action have the police taken?

Video footage of the incident shows officers surrounding the car and arresting one man.

Police are treating the situation as a terrorist incident and the Met’s Counter-Terrorism Command is leading the investigation.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The area around Millbank is on lockdown

Millbank, Parliament Square, Victoria Tower Gardens and the length of Whitehall have been cordoned off. Westminster Tube station has been closed for exit and entry.

Westminster Bridge is also closed and a long wait is expected before the roads reopen.

The cordon has been widened twice and sniffer dogs have been seen in the area.

The police called on the public to be vigilant and to dial 999 if they see anything suspicious that causes concern.

What did eyewitnesses see?

Barry Williams, a BBC staff member based at Millbank, said the car drove onto the wrong side of the road and “ploughed” into cyclists waiting at the lights.

“Then it swerved back across the road and accelerated as fast as possible, and hit the barrier at full pelt,” he said.

Jason Williams told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme the driver had “driven at speed – more than 40 mph”.

He said: “I saw at least 10 people lying down. I was told basically to move away, to run.”

“It looked deliberate… it didn’t look like an accident,” he added.

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Media captionWitness: “I saw a man drive towards Parliament at speed”

Ewalina Ochab, who also saw the crash, said: “It looked intentional – the car drove at speed and towards the barriers.”

She said: “I was walking on the other side of the road. I heard some noise and someone screamed. I turned around and I saw a silver car driving very fast close to the railings, maybe even on the pavement.”

The vehicle did not appear to have a front registration plate when it crashed, she added.

How have politicians responded?

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan thanked those who responded first at the scene and said he was in close contact with the Met Police.

Prime Minister Theresa May described the emergency services’ response as “immediate and courageous”.

She said her thoughts were with those injured in the crash.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Huge thanks to our emergency services for their rapid reaction to incident in Westminster this morning. My thoughts are with those injured.”



UK unemployment at lowest since 1975

People walking across Canary Wharf Image copyright Getty Images

UK unemployment fell by 65,000 to 1.36 million in three months to June – the lowest for more than 40 years, official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

They also show a rise in productivity, but a slowdown in wage growth.

Wages, excluding bonuses, grew by 2.7% in the three months to June, compared with a year ago.

The ONS figures also showed the number of European Union nationals working in the UK fell by a record amount.

The fall was the largest annual amount since records began in 1997. It UK unemployment at lowest since 1975 continues a trend seen since the 2016 Brexit vote.

That contrasted with a rise in the number of non-EU nationals working in the UK to 1.27 million – 74,000 more than a year earlier.

The CBI said the size of the UK workforce was shrinking at the same time as vacancies for skills and labour were growing.

Matthew Percival, CBI head of employment, said the government needed to guarantee that EU workers could continue to work even in a “no-deal” Brexit scenario.

‘Zero hours’

The unemployment rate fell to 4% in the quarter to June. That was the lowest since February 1975 and better than the figure expected by economists.

The drop came despite a smaller-than-expected 42,000 increase in the number of jobs created over the three-month period.

On productivity, the ONS also said output per hour worked was up by 1.5% – the biggest rise since late 2016.

The official figures also showed 104,000 people who were employed on “zero-hours” contracts, which do not guarantee a set number of hours per week, left such work. That left 780,000 people with those conditions as their main job.

It also said the number of people aged 16 to 64 who were not working, looking for work or available to work – what is known as “economically inactive” – increased by 77,000 from the first quarter of the year.


Andy Verity, economics correspondent

Here’s something economists have thought for decades that they know for sure: that if unemployment keeps getting lower, wages will improve. For years, the economy’s been rudely ignoring the economists’ theory, with wages sagging even as the unemployment rate hits fresh lows.

But recently, reality’s looked just a little more willing to conform to economic predictions. Pay rises (excluding bonuses) averaged 2.7% in the year to the end of June – higher than the official inflation number of 2.4% (but lower than the 3.4% rise in the old-style Retail Prices Index used to calculate rises in rail fares).

Judging by the unemployment rate dropping to 4.0% – its lowest since February 1975 – that coincided with an apparently super-tight labour market, meaning lots of jobs available for fewer people to fill them.

And there’s a key factor making the labour market tighter: a net outflow of EU nationals working in the UK. In the second quarter of the year, the number of EU nationals was 2.28 million on the Office for National Statistics’ estimates – down by 86,000. That’s the biggest fall in 21 years.

Interest rates

Earlier this month, the Bank of England raised interest rates for only the second time in 10 years, as it sought to manage inflation amid signs of a strengthening UK economy.

However, Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, said this now looked to have been a premature move.

“Achieving sustained increases in wage growth remains a key challenge, with sluggish productivity, underemployment and the myriad of high upfront business costs weighing down on pay settlements,” he said.

“As such, there remains precious little sign that wage growth is set to take off – undermining a key assumption behind the Monetary Policy Committee’s recent decision to raise rates.”



Homebase set to close 42 stores

Homebase store Image copyright Getty Images

DIY retailer Homebase is set to to announce plans to close 42 stores, putting about 1,500 jobs at risk.

Restructuring company Hilco, which bought the DIY chain for £1 in May, is expected to confirm its plans for a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) on Tuesday.

It bought the struggling chain from Australia’s Wesfarmers after its disastrous foray into the UK market.

Homebase has 241 stores and 11,000 employees.

A total of 17 Homebase stores have already closed this year and the business has also cut 303 jobs at its head office in Milton Keynes.

A CVA is a controversial insolvency procedure used by struggling firms to close underperforming shops.

Restructuring experts at Alvarez & Marsal will carry out the CVA, which will require the support of landlords.

Property owners are left out of pocket by CVAs, although the British Property Federation (BPF) said that in this instance, Alvarez & Marshal and Homebase had consulted with the landlords.

Business blunders

CVAs have been adopted by a number of retailers including New Look, Carpetright and Mothercare in recent months.

Stephanie Pollitt, assistant director of real estate policy at the BPF, said: “These situations are never easy, as property owners need to take into consideration the impact on their investors, including those protecting pensioners’ savings, as they vote on the CVA proposal.

“Homebase and Alvarez & Marsal have, however, demonstrated best practice, engaging with the BPF in the process and therefore ensuring property owners’ interests have been properly taken into account,” she said.

“Ultimately, it will be for individual property owners to decide how they will vote on the CVA, but the proposal has sought to find a solution that provides a sustainable future for Homebase.”

Wesfarmers bought Homebase in 2016 for £340m and planned to rebrand the chain with its Bunnings brand.

However, the Australian company admitted making a number of “self-induced” blunders, including underestimating winter demand for items such as heaters, as well as dropping popular kitchen and bathroom ranges.

Catherine Shuttleworth of retail consultancy Savvy said Homebase was a business “under attack from all sides”, with alienated customers finding “good alternatives in B&M, supermarkets’ own home sections, Wilko and others”.

She added: “This will go down in retail history as an example of needing to know the market – retailing is not necessarily globally portable. Chucking out the management was an ill-advised decision.”



Westminster car crash: Man arrested on suspicion of terror offences

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionArmed police responded after a vehicle crashed into security barriers

A man has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament, injuring two people.

Officers were seen surrounding the vehicle before the man in his late 20s was detained, shortly after 07:30 BST.

Cyclists were hit in the crash and London Ambulance Service said it had taken the patients to hospital with non life-threatening injuries.

No one else was in the car and no weapons have been found so far.

“At this stage, we are treating this as a terrorist incident and the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command is now leading the investigation,” said Scotland Yard.

The man is in police custody at a south London police station and police are searching the vehicle, which is still at the scene.

A number of eyewitnesses have said the silver car appeared to deliberately hit members of the public.

  • What we know so far
  • Westminster crash in pictures
Image caption Cyclists were seen on the ground after the crash
Image caption The crashed car can be seen highlighted in this image

BBC News home affairs correspondent June Kelly described the terror arrest as a “significant development”.

“The police will be looking at this man’s background, his identity – they’ll either know it or they will be working towards it,” she said. “They will be looking at his beliefs his associates, also his mental state.

“Also, crucially, is he on their radar – is he somebody who was known to them?”

Westminster tube station is closed and streets around Millbank, Parliament Square and Victoria Tower Gardens have been cordoned off.

People have been moved further back from the area twice as police put up a Terrorism Act cordon, officers at the scene said. Parliament is currently not sitting.

An eyewitness said the car was travelling westbound past the Houses of Parliament when it swerved into eastbound traffic.

Images posted to social media showed a man in handcuffs being led away from the car by officers after the crash.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “My thoughts are with those injured in the incident in Westminster and my thanks to the emergency services for their immediate and courageous response.”

Home Secretary Sajid Javid also thanked emergency services for their quick response.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he was in close contact with police.

‘I ran for my life’ – eyewitness accounts

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Media captionWitness: “I saw a man drive towards Parliament at speed”

Barry Williams, a BBC member of staff based at Millbank, said: “I heard lots of screams and turned round.

“The car went onto the wrong side of the road to where cyclists were waiting at lights and ploughed into them.

“Then it swerved back across the road and accelerated as fast as possible and hit the barrier at full pelt.

“It was a small silver car and he hit it at such speed the car actually lifted off the ground and bounced.

“Then the police just jumped. Two officers managed to leap over the security barriers and then the armed police vehicles all sped towards the scene.”

Jason Williams told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme the driver had “driven at speed – more than 40 mph”.

He added: “There was smoke coming out of the car. I have seen people on the ground, lying on the road. I don’t know if they have actually been hit by the vehicle or not.

“I saw at least 10 people lying down. I was told basically to move away, to run. I have run for my life.”

He said that “it looked deliberate… it didn’t look like an accident”.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The area around Millbank is on lockdown
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Forensics officers could be seen at the scene of the crash

More than 10 police vehicles and at least three ambulances were at the scene outside Parliament.

Firearms officers and at least two police sniffer dogs have been searching the area.

A bus driver who was driving past the scene at the time said he saw smoke coming out of the car.

Victor Ogbomo said: “I just stopped the bus. The police said we have to move back, then in less than five minutes the response team came.

“They went to the vehicle, so we had to push back. I saw the car in the barrier, I didn’t know how it got there.”

Ewalina Ochab, who also saw the crash, said: “I think it looked intentional – the car drove at speed and towards the barriers.”

She said: “I was walking on the other side of the road. I heard some noise and someone screamed. I turned around and I saw a silver car driving very fast close to the railings, maybe even on the pavement.”

The vehicle did not appear to have a front registration plate when it crashed, she added.

Image copyright AFP/Ewalina Ochab
Image caption An eyewitness took this picture shortly after the crash
Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Westminster Bridge has also been closed

A London Ambulance Service spokesman said: “We have treated two people at the scene for injuries that are not believed to be serious and have taken them to hospital.”

Westminster station is closed for entry and exit, Transport for London said, and is open only for interchange between lines.

Rush hour traffic is being diverted and workers have been told there may be a long wait before roads are reopened.

The Supreme Court has also been closed to the public.

The Houses of Parliament are surrounded with security barriers of steel and concrete. The measures were extended in the wake of the Westminster Bridge attack in March 2017 when Khalid Masood ploughed a car into crowds on Westminster Bridge, killing four people.

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Dedryck Boyata: Celtic defender says he is injured, not refusing to play

Dedryck Boyata had returned to Celtic training after time off following his World Cup exertions with Belgium

Celtic’s Dedryck Boyata says he is missing Tuesday’s Champions League qualifier at AEK Athens through injury, not because he is refusing to play.

Manager Brendan Rodgers said the centre-half’s absence made him “sad” and that he had to put his faith in “players who want to be here”.

Boyata responded by posting a video of him receiving treatment.

“Unfortunately, I could not play because I’m not yet 100% operational,” the 27-year-old said on Instagram.

Fulham had a multi-million pound bid for Boyata rejected last week before England’s transfer window closed.

His agent Jacques Lichtenstein was subsequently quoted as saying that, because the Belgium defender is in the final year of his Celtic contract, he could not afford to risk playing when not 100% fit.

Responding to suggestions he had not travelled to Greece because of a ‘convenient’ injury, Boyata posted a video showing treatment to his back and thigh that he described as a “muscular work session to come back even stronger on the pitch”.

Celtic go into the second leg against AEK with their progress to the play-off round of Champions League qualifying hanging in the balance after drawing 1-1 at home last week.

Boyata, who helped Belgium reach this summer’s World Cup semi-finals, added that he was “with all my team-mates to bring the qualification”.

Belgian website quoted the defender as saying: “When I hear I’ve refused to play since I came back from vacation, it’s wrong.

“Last Thursday, I hurt myself when I slipped in training and I held my leg immediately.

“The physio saw it and examined me right after the session. I put ice for 30 minutes on my leg and, the next day, I specified I had pains.

“The exams proved I could not play against Hearts and, since then, I’m doing everything I can to be ready as quickly as possible.”

Boyata stressed he had full confidence in his agent and that, since joining Celtic from Manchester City in 2015, he had played a number of times while not 100% fit.

Before the match against AEK, manager Rodgers refused to be drawn on whether Boyata had played his last game for Celtic.

Analysis – Former Celtic midfielder John Collins on BBC Radio 5 live

“Celtic’s business model in recent years has been to sign younger players cheap, develop them and sell them on when they go into the last year of contact.

“They have done it with so many players – Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Stuart Armstrong in the summer – so I would imagine they would sell Dedryck.

“They signed two central defenders in January in Jack Hendry and Marvin Compper, but they haven’t really produced and Dedryck has been the number one alongside young Kristoffer Ajer.

“I think they will sell him, but they have refused Fulham, so the English market is closed and the only market now is the Continent.”



Ben Stokes affray trial: Jury retires to consider verdicts

England cricketer Ben Stokes arrives at Bristol Crown Court Image copyright PA
Image caption Ben Stokes’ defence barrister told the jury he had acted “to defend himself or in defence of another”

The jury has retired to consider its verdicts in the trial of England cricketer Ben Stokes who is accused of knocking two men unconscious outside a nightclub.

Mr Stokes, 27, and Ryan Ali, 28, have denied affray at Bristol Crown Court.

Mr Stokes said he was acting in self-defence when he punched Mr Ali and Ryan Hale, 27, during the fracas in Bristol last year.

But Mr Ali argued the cricketer needed restraining to protect Mr Hale.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Both Mr Stokes and Ryan Ali have denied affray

The fight took place several hours after England had played a one-day international against West Indies at the city’s County Ground.

During the six-day trial, the jury heard the Durham all-rounder was “drunk and enraged” after being refused entry back into Mbargo nightclub at 02:00 BST on 25 September.

His defence barrister said this was “complete nonsense”

Prosecutor Nicholas Corsellis told the court Mr Stokes had acted “to defend himself or in defence of another” when Mr Ali had a bottle in his hand, but then “quickly turned aggressor”.

Mr Ali’s defence barrister Anna Midgley said there had been no evidence to show her client had suddenly lost it “from a calm gentleman to a total personality change”.

Mr Stokes, of Castle Eden, Durham, was arrested in the early hours along with emergency services worker Mr Ali, of Bristol, and Mr Hale, of Westbury-on-Trym, who was acquitted of the same charge last Thursday.



India rejects patent plea for ‘immoral’ sex toy

we-Vibe Image copyright We-Vibe

India’s patent office has rejected a plea by a Canadian company to patent a vibrator because sex toys violate “public order and morality”.

Invoking India’s obscenity law, the patent office said the law “has never engaged positively with the notion of sexual pleasure”.

The patent office said sex toys are considered to be obscene objects and are illegal in India.

But a 2011 court ruling had said sex toys could not be considered obscene.

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An Ontario-based company called Standard Innovation Corporation had applied for a patent in India for a new vibrator, to prevent generic local copycats being sold in the market, according to Shamnad Basheer, a visiting professor of law at India’s National Law School who is working on a book about public health law.

In April, the patents office rejected the plea, saying that sex toys lead “to obscenity and moral deprivation of individuals”.

“These are toys that are not considered useful or productive. Mostly these are considered to be morally degrading by the law,” the office said.

“The law views sex toys negatively and has never engaged positively with the notion of sexual pleasure”.

The office also invoked the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a 155-year-old colonial-era law, which criminalises gay sex and unnatural intercourse, in refusing the patent.

An appeal to strike down provisions of the law is currently pending before the Supreme Court.

“Why should the patents office handle moral decisions? Officials trained in technical science are not supposed to decide whether an invention is moral or immoral,” Prof Basheer told the BBC.

Sex toys are openly sold online, and in a thriving black market in India.

A survey by an online story selling sex toys in India last year found that 62% of the buyers of sex toys in India were men, while the remaining 38% were women.



Social housing proposals ‘to give tenants greater power’

Social housing in Bristol Image copyright Getty Images

Giving tenants greater support so they can hold their landlords to account is being considered as part of government proposals on social housing in England.

The measures include speeding up the complaints process and publishing league tables to highlight the performance of landlords.

The Green Paper also pledges a scheme to offer tenants the right to buy 1% of their home each year.

Labour said the “pitiful” plans made no promise to fund more affordable homes.

The plans are part of a “fundamental rethink” on social housing following the Grenfell tragedy.

The latest announcement comes a day after the government unveiled its £100m strategy to tackle rough sleeping on England’s streets.

In September last year, then-communities secretary Sajid Javid said the government would produce the Green Paper as soon as possible in the wake of the Grenfell blaze, which killed 72 people.

Green Papers are government documents which set out policy ideas and enable ministers to consult on the suggestions.

Plans include introducing landlord ratings to hold bad practice to account, and providing the regulator with “sharper teeth” to intervene on issues that matter most to tenants.

It also outlines changes to make it easier for tenants to own their homes, such as allowing them to use the government’s shared ownership scheme to purchase as little as 1% of their property each year.

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Media captionWhat is social housing and why do we have it?

The government has also unveiled a separate consultation into how councils spend the money from Right to Buy sales, as it looks to increase the number of local authority homes.

It sets out proposals to make it easier for councils to replace properties sold under Right to Buy, and to build more affordable homes.

  • Social housing in ‘crisis’ in south
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Housing Secretary James Brokenshire, who is launching a consultation on the proposals, said: “Our Green Paper offers a landmark opportunity for major reform to improve fairness, quality and safety for residents living in social housing across the country.

“Regardless of whether you own your home or rent, residents deserve security, dignity and the opportunities to build a better life.”

Official figures, highlighted by housing charity Shelter, showed that 1.15 million households were on social housing waiting lists in England last year.

Of the 290,000 homes that became available in 2017, fewer than 14,000 were newly-built homes.


By BBC home editor Mark Easton

David Cameron’s government tended to view social housing with antipathy bordering on outright hostility. Advisers in Number Ten argued that social housing caused welfare dependency and increased poverty.

The memoirs of Nick Clegg, David Cameron’s deputy prime minister, reveal that a very senior government figure asked why would we spend money on social housing – it just breeds Labour voters.

Under the Cameron government, the amount of new social housing started, dwindled to almost nothing.

Then we had the tragedy of Grenfell. That fire changed the politics overnight.

Theresa May said: “For too long in our country, we simply haven’t given enough attention to social housing”, and “let the legacy of this awful tragedy be that we resolve never to forget these people and instead to gear our policies and our thinking towards making their lives better and bringing them into the political process”.

The housing minister was sent round the country to listen to social housing tenants as his then boss, Sajid Javid, said: “The green paper will be the most substantial report of its kind for a generation”.

As Green Papers go, it is very green. More the start of a conversation than offering solutions.

There are welcome words about the need to reduce the stigma of social housing, of ensuring that tenants’ rights and concerns are treated properly, that the homes themselves are decent.

It does say that one of the principles of the Green Paper and core priorities for the government is that we should be “building the social homes that we need”.

But there is little about how that might be done or how it might be paid for. And there will be disappointment in the housing sector that this “once in a generation” report has so little to say about the central question of supply.

There were fewer than 6,000 social homes completed in England in the last year. Experts say we require between 70,000 and 90,000 every year to meet the need. Warm words do not build affordable houses.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said the government’s plan was “full of warm words, but doesn’t commit a single extra penny towards building the social homes needed by the 1.2 million people on the waiting list”.

Judith Blake, housing spokeswoman for the Local Government Association, said the proposals were “a step towards delivering more social homes” – but “only a small step”.

“There is a desperate need to reverse the decline in council housing over the past few decades.”

And shadow housing secretary John Healey said the offering from the government was “pitiful”, with nothing that “measures up to the scale of the housing crisis”.

He added: “The number of new social rented homes is at a record low but there is no new money to increase supply, and ministers are still preventing local authorities run by all parties from building the council homes their communities need.”

The Green Paper only applies to England as social housing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has been devolved.

The Scottish Government has set out plans to build at least 50,000 affordable homes by 2021.